St. Joseph's Prep outlasts a resilient Harrisburg club to claim its fourth PIAA state title in six years, 40-20
By Michael Bullock
4th Down Magazine
HERSHEY — While the opportunities presented themselves and were waiting to be taken advantage of — and Calvin Everett’s club benefited several times — Harrisburg’s valiant Cougars couldn’t quite reel in the result they so desperately wanted.
So, for the second time in three years, silver was the metal they were taking home.
Kyle McCord threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes and ran for a third score as St. Joseph’s Prep pulled away to a 40-20 victory over Everett’s Cougars in the PIAA Class 6A football championship game Saturday night at frosty Hersheypark Stadium.
Kolbe Burrell added a first-half touchdown run — and 147 rushing yards — while Marques Mason tacked on a pair of 4-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter as the Hawks (13-0) turned a one-score game into a three-possession victory.
Saturday’s victory also earned Gabe Infante’s program its fourth big-school championship in six seasons.
For Harrisburg (13-2), which played in the 5A title game two Decembers ago, QB Kane Everson threw for 201 yards and one score. And when Everson hooked up with Donte Kent on a 25-yard TD with 7:38 left in the third quarter, the ‘Burg trailed 27-20.
Jahmir Plant added a 1-yard scoring run in the opening half before suffering an injury that limited his effectiveness when he returned after the break.
The Cougars actually owned a 7-0 lead just 3:02 in when Jai Burney swiped a McCord pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Burney had a remarkable outing, as the 5-7, 210-pound senior linebacker also recovered all three of Prep’s fumbles.
“We put in work all season just to get to this point, but we fell short,” Burney said.
“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” Everett added, referring to Burney. “Jai’s a monster. He’s very, very small, but his heart is like 6-5 even though he’s only 5-6.”
Yet even though Burney had the ‘Burg up early, Prep responded by scoring on its next three possessions as the 6-3, 195-pound McCord (26-37-1-284) caught fire.
While McCord’s 13-yard strike to Johnny Freeman pulled the Hawks even, Burrell pushed Infante’s bunch in front to stay when he broke off a 59-yard scoring run. McCord added another 13-yard TD to Anthony Rightley just before the teams changed ends.
“Their offense is extremely dynamic,” said Everett of a Prep side that totaled 511 yards of offense. “I knew we were going to struggle. We had to pick our poison. Were we going to commit to try to stop the pass or continue to stop the run like we’ve been doing all year? We tried to do a little bit of both, but that’s a dynamic offense.”
After Plant bounced over from a yard out to make it 20-14, McCord sneaked over from the 1 to restore Prep’s lead to 13 (27-14). Yet the Cougars were threatening again until Rightley picked off Everson in the end zone for the first of his three interceptions.
Prep was moving the ball again in the third quarter, but Marvin Harrison Jr. fumbled at his own 43 after hauling in a McCord pass and Burney returned it 25 yards. Then, on fourth down, Everson hooked up with the elusive Kent for a 25-yard score that moved the ‘Burg within 27-20. Kent finished with six grabs for 111 yards.
When Burrell fumbled on Prep’s next possession — Andre White Jr. caused the bobble with one of his 11 tackles — Burney gobbled it up at the Hawks 47. Plant, however, gave the ball back to the Philly Catholic League entry at the Harrisburg 35.
“We had opportunities and that’s all we can ask,” Everett said. “It would be one thing if we came out on the field and they wiped us off the field.
“We had our opportunities.”
While Mason was busy pocketing scores on a pair of 4-yard runs, Harrisburg watched Rightley end two drives with picks and another possession was ended on downs.
Eventually, Harrisburg’s bid for a 14th consecutive victory and its first state football championship, would come to an end. Everett, however, wasn’t about to let his Cougars bounce away without lauding them for what they accomplished.
“It showed how much we played as a team and how much we are a family,” Burney stated. “We came together with four returning starters to where we are now.”
“I just wanted them to know that this game does not define them,” Everett added. “Of who they are or what they’re going to be or anything like that. By going through this, it’s just something that’s going to make them stronger in the future.”
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